Band of Brothers

Another epic World War II miniseries.  Band of Brothers (2001) follows E “Easy” Company of the 101st Airborne Division from training to the end of the war.  Based on a book by Stephen Ambrose, the focus is on the battlefront with all of the carnage, tragedy, and discomfort that occurs there.  Unlike Winds of War (1983), this show is for a different caliber of military history junkie.  This is not particularly interested in political machinations, or any of the business of why, but rather on war and men.  It’s simpler to write and understand, but you go through a great deal more explosives and casting.

Each part starts with interviews from old servicemen concerning the relevant topic.  It ends, sometimes, with a list of medals handed out or casualties incurred on the missions portrayed in that part.  Not having read anything about the series (or the book upon which it is based) is that this is a true story.  I’ve said it before, but true stories usually make me wary of what I’m watching.  But not here.  This show is written, so the dialogue is not necessarily correct but the war story is absolutely exceptional.  To think that one company went through a year plus of this kind of brutal survival is incredible.

As HBO does quite often, the cast is highly populated with British actors.  You may recognize a few of the names that will/have become television and movie stars.  Damian LewisMichael FassbenderTom HardySimon Pegg, James McAvoy, and Stephen Graham.  You’ll recognize some American faces as well (though they were known at the time as well, so it’s a bit less powerful).  Ron LivingstonDonnie Wahlberg, (the always military) Dale DyeDavid SchwimmerColin Hanks, and (good God) Jimmy Fallon.

Music from Michael Kamen is as good as you could ask for.

The opening credits are ludicrously long, but since the series is enormous, that’s presumably acceptable.  But after the fourth time you watch it, it is no longer acceptable.  The only interesting part of the credits becomes the odd fact that nearly every episode is written and/or directed by someone new.  How they maintained the same look and feel of every episode is noteworthy.  Of course, some of the episodes are considerably different with some dramatic-to-sappy narrations or over-stylized story structures, but the vast majority of it retains a gritty, human dimension.

This show, also to be expected of HBO, is well and expensively produced.  With solid (if not stupendous) writing and a legitimately phantasmagorically massive story, this is a great show that should be watched by anyone.  I tended to see this on the shelf of every library I’ve ever been to and, because of its consistent presence, decided that I’ll watch it later (or never).  Don’t do that.  It isn’t a B-grade Saving Private Ryan (1998).  It’s an A-grade epic miniseries.

Check it out.  Or even buy it ($42).

Here’s a pointless rundown of the episodes.

For accompaniment, some Dire Straits.

Part 1 – Currahee

We were attacked.  It weren’t like Korea or Vietnam, we were attacked.

June 4, 1944—D Day postponed.  Two years earlier. Training.  Capt. Sobel (David Schwimmer) is a task master who clearly has a fondness for the Lone Ranger.  Currahee is the local hill/mountain that the captain likes to make them run again and again and also their motto.  When Sobel shows himself to be a miserable commanding officer, mutiny is fluttering in the air.

That’s Simon Pegg!

Part 2 – Day of Days

We’re not lost Private, we’re in Normandy.

Operation Overlord.  D-Day.  It’s jump time.  It’s chaos in the sky, but it only gets worse on the ground.  The vast majority of the 101st airborne are scattered across Normandy and Lt. Winters (Damien Lewis) is now in charge of easy Company.

Part 3 – Carentan

I think everyone had fear.

They’ve taken their initial targets and now have to take the town of Carentan so that the landing parties can move deeper into Normandy.  It ain’t easy and once it’s done, it’s onward into France.  Until…

Part 4 – Replacements

They were awfully green. 

It’s James MacAvoy!

Reinforcements have arrived and the guys who have been there for three months are the vets to these boys.  There here for Operation Market Garden—a drop into occupied Holland.  Liberate and wait is the mission.  Oh and Sobel’s back.  It’s now Capt. Winters.  The landing goes fine, but the pushing forward was less successful.

Part 5 – Crossroads

He never sent someone first in his place.  I don’t know how he survived.  But he did.

After an amazing turn against two SS companies, Capt. Winters gets two days in Paris.  Well, almost two days until he has to come back when the Germans push back through the Arden forest and it’s up to the airborne to hold the line.

Is that Jimmy Fallon?  Geez, everybody’s in this thing.

Part 6 – Bastogne

Germans knew right where we were and the Germans gave us a shellacking.

It’s a battle on ice and it’s like it’s WWI.  This part focuses on the medics and their desperate need and lack of materials.  The Battle of the Bulge.

Part 7 – The Breaking Point

Get into your foxholes!

The Battle of the Bulge is over, but it’s still cold and now it’s just about surviving the bombardment and then taking Foy.  Bad leaders, good leaders, snipers, and explosions.

Part 8 – The Last Patrol

You have a feeling you’re going to live through the war…so walk carefully, take care of yourself.

Feb. 9, 1949.  Lots of dead folks and replacements are coming in.  Including Lt. Jones (Colin Hanks).  Everyone feels the war coming to a close and stupid things start happening.  There’s a lot of tension because everyone sees each mission as a violation, like every other pointless objective wasn’t as equally disrespectful.

Part 9 – Why We Fight

We used to say the only dead kraut was a dead kraut, but there was something in there was a kid, most of them were just kids, we all were kids.

Kids or not, the American soldiers came to learn that there are some crimes greater than war.  Easy Company is heading through Germany now collecting prisoners, doing a bit of looting, and getting really disaffected with the war, especially in light of why the American forces aren’t pushing towards Berlin and an end to the war.  Roosevelt has died.  The next day, a patrol out of Easy Company comes across something they can’t quite describe.  It’s a camp.

Part 10 – Points

You ready?  Listen up.  The German Army has surrendered.

2nd Battalion is in Austria—gorgeous, beautiful Austria—and they’ve been tasked to take the Nazi’s vacation spot, including the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s alp-top home.  Drinks are on Goerring!  But wait, Europe isn’t the only place to fight.  If you don’t have 85 points, gained through service and awards, you ain’t goin’ home.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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